Airbnb China president: Localization is key if we want to be successful in the country

Sam Shead
Key Points
  • Airbnb China President Tao Peng explains how the company is making subtle changes to its platform to make it work in the country.
  • Airbnb has hired 500 staff in Beijing to build a customized version of the platform, which includes a different front page and the ability to pay with WeChat Pay and Alipay.
  • The travel giant has also changed its name to "Aibiying" in China.
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Home-sharing platform Airbnb needs to "localize" its platform if it is going to be successful in China, according to Tao Peng, president of Airbnb China.

The San Francisco-headquartered tech firm, which is set to IPO next year, has built a customized app in China and rebranded itself to "Aibiying" as part of an effort to appeal to more Chinese consumers.

"Eastern culture is very different from Western culture," Peng said Tuesday at CNBC's East Tech West conference in the Nansha district of Guangzhou, China.

"We devote a lot of resources to localize," he said, adding that Airbnb has more than doubled its headcount in Beijing to 500 staff during 2019.

In order to convince China's 1.4 billion people to use its platform, Airbnb is trying to ensure that Airbnb China is built by "Chinese engineers for Chinese people," Peng told CNBC's Deirdre Bosa.

The exec admitted that Airbnb initially had "lots of issues" with its front page in China because Chinese people interact with the internet differently to those in the West. To get around the issues, Airbnb customized its front page in China. "When you open it, it is different to the U.S.," Peng said, adding that people tend to use promotions and search in order to find accommodation.

Commuters cross a road opposite a shopping mall in Beijing on April 4, 2019.
GREG BAKER | AFP | Getty Images

While people in the West tend to make online payments with their credit cards, people in China use digital platforms like Alibaba's Alipay and Tencent's WeChat. Airbnb, which has 7 million properties globally on its platform, worked with Alibaba and Tencent to ensure Chinese customers could use these payment platforms to make their bookings.

Peng also explained the logic behind the new "Aibiying" name in China. "It is hard to pronounce, but I think it captures the meaning," he said. "It means love and welcome each other. I think we chose the name because it makes you feel excited and passionate. It feels very natural."

Ming Foong, a managing director for travel commerce platform Travelport, said on the same panel at the East Tech West conference: "The way Asia uses technology can be very different."

"The reliance (on mobile) is very different from a Western country. So coming to China, you really have to appreciate that and understand how you can localize and utilize those things."